I had the opportunity to interview Kate McIntyre, author of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant! She’s a joy to chat with, and her book was a lovely read as well. I’d seen the cover going around the CQ groups for awhile, and despite several past bad experiences with ‘steampunk,’ the itch to check out what lay behind this amazing cover kept needling at me.
When Kate posted to express interest in doing interviews, I figured that was as good an excuse as any. Fortunately, I was far from disappointed.
Darrington City is on the verge of total political and economic collapse. Olivia Faraday. the eccentric Deathsniffer, is the only employer willing to consider the resume of impoverished rich boy Christopher Buckley. Soon enough, Olivia and Chris have a grisly murder to solve — if they can manage before the city is torn apart around them. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant combines fantasy and mystery and is available via BookBub for .99c on November 30 and December 1st!
- In Deathsniffer’s Assistant, you’ve established several categorizations of magic-using people. What percentage of the population has gifts? Are there any categories that you’ve come up with that weren’t included?
In times of yore, about 99% of the population would be awakened to a magical gift during the categorization process. But in the era I’m writing, it’s down to about 75%, which, as you can imagine, has made quite a dent on the infrastructure!
The Timeseer’s Gambit, the sequel to TDA, really delves into the process of categorization. You’ll see a few categorizations that weren’t in the first book, like hymnshapers who can amplify or dampen sound waves. You also learn what happens when categorization doesn’t find any gifts in you.
- What inspired the story / world? Are any of the characters based on anything specific?
I taught myself to read using Nancy Drew novels, so I had a great love of mysteries implanted young. In my early teens, I read a short story by Mercedes Lackey where a mystery was solved using magic. Thus began my quest to find more fantasy murder mysteries… which are in short supply! I decided to write my own.
As for the world and characters, Darrington and its inhabitants are kind of a composite of a hundred different things I wanted to do in a book. The lynchpin of the whole thing was that I wanted to write something set in a fluffy and wondrous world with unicorns and faeries where everything was magical. And I wanted to write something where the arcane was mundane and the characters lived normal daily lives, oblivious to the magic around them. Making those two worlds one and the same was a huge part of my vision for the series.
- Can you give us a little hint of where the story might be going / what your future projects may be?
In The Timeseer’s Gambit, readers are going to see Chris and Olivia growing up and growing together. They’ll definitely see a lot more of the mysterious timeseer, William Cartwright. There’s a cathedral, a serial killer, a grand ball, and quite a few escaped elementals. There’s also some romance as Chris gets in over his head with his personal relationships.
As for future projects―I’m working on a historical fantasy set in 1960s Ireland. Like TDA, it combines the magical and the mundane when a half Irish lawyer from London fleeing a falling out with his politician father ends up fighting faeries in the Otherworld.
- Deathsniffer’s Assistant seems to blend aspects of Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Victorian setting, and a little dash of Steampunk together. What genre would you consider it? Did you set out to hit a specific genre or did you have a story in mind and genre be damned?
Oh, that pesky genre question!
I was only aiming to combine the fantasy and mystery genres, I swear! But others kept sneaking their way in. The Urban Fantasy happened when I decided to contain the project to one city to prevent scope creep. The Victorian happened when I wanted my narrator to be overly concerned with the rules of society to contrast his employer. I don’t even know where the Steampunk came from! We’re not even done yet―wait for the sequel when Romance takes a major role!
I really never set out to create such a chimera of genres, but if I can be honest, I kind of like my lumbering creation. While the parts seem disparate, I like how they fit together. I think it’s because I never intended this much genre melding. It happened naturally, pieces from different puzzles just fitting smoothly together as I wrote. Nothing was grafted on to meet some market demand or give my book a little of this flavour or that scent.
- Are you an outliner or a pantser? Have any of your characters ever taken umbrage with the way the story was going and made you change something?
I wish with all my heart I could be a pantser, because I hate outlining. I hate it so much! It’s the worst part of the process for me and it takes a lot of discipline to get through it.
But Kate without a roadmap is Kate wandering around in a forest swearing she’s not lost right up until she walks into the bear cave. Much as I wish it were different, I can’t write a damn book without an outline.
But that doesn’t mean my outlines are immutable. Far from it. I’ve changed plot points, plot arcs, and even added or removed entire characters. Scenes with Olivia in them are harder to outline reliably. She’s a sneaky little bugger and never acts exactly the way I want her to once I get her in the moment.
We all get to the same place we originally planned, but sometimes we make a few pit stops.
- What would you consider the most difficult part of writing Deathsniffer’s Assistant? And what was the most fun part?
The most difficult part was sitting my fat butt down and writing the damn thing. I’d been in a funk with original work for years before I got going on TDA, and I struggled with shelving it quite a few times. I had to learn a lot of discipline and a lot of confidence in order to get through the first draft. But of course―that was the most fun part, too! There’s a moment after the initial grumbling that you’re writing when everything clicks and words just start to flow. The more I made myself write, the easier I found myself sliding into that groove. My best memories of writing the book are from the last quarter of it. Something just took hold of me and I couldn’t stop writing until the last word was down. What a rush!
- Tell us something that happened during your journey from having a manuscript to holding your book in your hands that you never expected?
Actually, this is a really good story.
My amazing agent, Caitlin McDonald, exchanged quite a few emails with me while she was reviewing the novel and considering representing me. I made one of the biggest goofs you possibly can in early communication with a professional contact: I sent an email from the wrong account and emailed Caitlin with the address I’d used for writing fanfiction.
I was pretty sure my chances had been completely blown by that screw-up. My old, embarrassing work was really easy to find via Google once she had that email. I breathed a sigh of relief when she asked to represent me, anyway. Phew! She’s being professional even though I wasn’t.
And then she asked: “Are you the same _________ who wrote _________? Oh my gosh, I loved your stuff!”
The world is too small!
- About the gorgeous cover – how much of the design came from your suggestion, or did you let the publisher/artist run with whatever they thought of?
It’s so beautiful, isn’t it? I contributed a bit. I requested both Chris and Olivia on the cover, and suggested the misty blue sort of feel to it. Gosh, but all my expectations were blown away when I saw the first drafts. That was the moment when it got real. Amalia is talented beyond belief. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the sequel!
- During the story, it seemed that a relationship might’ve been brewing with Christopher and Ana, as well as the story giving off a sense that Chris and Olivia might be drawn together despite the ten year age gap. Are you seeing that going in a romantic direction or more of a quirky partnership / friendship angle?
There is definitely romance in Chris’s future―but definitely not with Olivia.
It was really important to me from the start that Olivia maintain her agency apart from Chris. And a big part of that is that she couldn’t become his love interest. In fact, Chris’s romantic plot was created specifically to eliminate speculation that he and Olivia were an item.
A lot of people love them together, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Chris and Olivia have a ton of chemistry, and the bond they forge is at the centre of everything in the series. But I always wanted that bond to be a platonic one.
- Do you have any idiosyncratic habits around your writing? (Need certain things in place to be able to write, or tend to do something while writing like my first word thing?)
I can barely write a word unless I’m at my local Starbucks, with a venti Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher made with lemonade instead of water, with my writing laptop, sitting in my special spot. It’s something that I trained myself to do, because I used to write in my house, and it’s just too easy to slack off when you’re in easy arm’s length of your main computer, or your Wii, or the kitchen. I needed discipline, and I read about writing rituals online.
The downside to my system is that if I can’t get out of the house, nothing gets done. But the upside is that I work much, much faster. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant took me almost three years to write, but The Timeseer’s Gambit took me only five months!
- If you don’t consider this a spoiler, how does Rosemary feel about the elementals? Does she regard them as poor sentient souls trapped in slavery or as talking batteries? The part with the undine when she’s first introduced makes it appear as though she thinks of them as people, but she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem stuffing them back in their boxes when necessary.
Rosemary is an odd duck. She’s young enough that she hasn’t really had the opportunity to form her own opinions, but strong willed enough that she’s formed them anyway. The problem is that she holds those opinions in tandem with the ones her father taught her, and she’s still too sheltered to see where they conflict and try to reconcile them.
Right now, she thinks that she can see them as poor sentient souls and talking batteries. But the real world is crashing in on her, and she’s definitely going to realize those are incompatible viewpoints and decide where she really stands soon enough.
- How has it been for you working with Curiosity Quills? Tell us how you found them and a bit of your journey from querying to being signed.
When Caitlin contacted me with the offer from CQ, it wasn’t the only one. I had to make a choice between publishers, and it was really, really hard. The following weeks had a lot of phone interviews with people from the different options, and while I liked them all, I really felt a connection with Vicki Keire, my acquiring editor at CQ. She convinced me to give CQ a close look.
Ultimately, I chose them over the competition because they promised a close relationship between the publisher and the authors, and between the authors themselves. And that’s exactly what I got. I’ve always felt like CQ is in my corner. Not just the editors, marketing folks, and production crew, but all the other authors signed with me―like you, Matthew! When I told the community about my upcoming BookBub promo, I couldn’t believe the offers to help spread the word. The people I work with are all wonderful. I wouldn’t trade them for a bigger name.
- What books/movies/authors would you say are your greatest influences?
Oh geez, so many. Like I said when discussing genre, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is kind of an amalgam of a hundred different things I’ve seen and liked over the years.
Right now, I’d like to give a shout-out to the absolutely brilliant Robin Hobb. Hobb’s novels inspired me in a way I’m not sure anything else ever has, because of how damn human her characters are. Robin Hobb doesn’t care whether you like the people she’s writing about or not, so long as you understand who they are, why they are that way, and how that decides their actions. I’ve always known I wanted to write characters like that, who aren’t likeable so much as real. Her work really gave me the courage to find the humanity in my characters, even when it wasn’t pretty.
- What would you like to say to your readers?
I love you so much!
A writer is nobody. Words written in the dark that nobody ever reads are nothing. We write because we want to share the stories crammed up in our heads, and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense.
I could write the greatest novel ever written, have it win every award on the planet, and it wouldn’t be worth as much as just one person telling me they cared about what happened to the people I created. To everyone who’s read my book, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re the reason I do this―the reason any of us do this.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. The beautiful cover gave off a Victorian / steampunkish vibe, which had me apprehensive as I’ve had bad experiences with steampunk in the past. I’m happy to say that this novel is more of a Victorian fantasy with magic and elementals.
This is a world where the binding of elementals to power items is commonplace (and dangerous). Enchanted objects from the necessary (lights) to the frivolous (amusement park rides) to the grim (executions) are infused with the essences of unwilling elemental beings. There’s an underlying story arc of a conflict between traditionalists (the enchanters) and progressives (those who wish to wean society from magic and rely on technology), though it serves as a subtle backdrop to the events of the story. In this society, most non-nobles are ‘categorized’ according to their magical abilities. Some people have power over the body and get assigned to work in the medical field, others are ‘heartseers’ and know the feelings of those around them. Some are also ‘truthsniffers’ who are supposedly able to detect lies – though this ‘power’ seemed a bit underwhelming in the story. (I’ll come back to that.)
The story is told from the POV of Christopher Buckley, a ‘fallen aristocrat’ from a once prestigious family who is struggling to provide for his younger sister after the death (several years before) of their parents. His family fortune has dwindled, and he is forced to take work. He winds up in the office of ‘deathsniffer’ O. Faraday, who is a truthsniffer specializing in the investigation of murder. Her occupation (and proud embrace of it) keeps people away out of superstition, but having no other options – Mr. Buckley decides to accept work as her assistant. His magical gift of being a wordweaver allows him to cause writing to appear as fast as he can think it, and his job is to ‘take notes’ of everything that goes on.
The major characters and the antagonist are all richly developed, full characters with believable quirks and unique personalities. With a murder mystery afoot, the author did an excellent job keeping me guessing as to the identity of the killer (though a few hints gave me a strong suspicion which later turned out correct.)
If I had anything somewhat negative to say, I thought the ‘truthsniffing’ was underplayed. The titular ‘deathsniffer’ didn’t seem all that much different from an ordinary investigator with the occasional ‘hunch.’ A minor character (timeseer) wound up adding more of a magical essence to the investigation that I think would’ve felt better coming from the deathsniffer. For the reputation she has, her effect on the story seemed almost brushed aside – Christopher did as much or more figuring out as the primary investigator, and her magical ‘truthseeing’ didn’t feel magical, more like a detective with strong instincts.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of this world, as the conflict between the enslaved elementals and humans looks to be something that Buckley’s sister might play a pivotal role in changing. The way the author portrayed even the elementals left me feeling sympathy for them, and I am wondering if one of the characters is going to wind up leading a crusade to emancipate them at some point.
All in all this was a wonderfully woven tale of murder mystery laced with magic, set in a rich and detailed alternate world England.
Amazon – http://amzn.com/B00ZH2AM5O
Kate’s Blog – http://kate-mcintyre.com/
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Kate on Facebook – https://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Kate-McIntyre/100006231767485